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The Breed Report: Border Collies

Our Expert:
Donna Mlinek is an animal behavior education coordinator for the Dumb Friends League in Denver. In her seven years with DFL, she has also taught obedience classes, worked on the shelter’s behavior helpline, and performed behavior evaluations. Mlinek has two border collies of her own who compete in obedience and agility contests; she provided us with answers on everything from preferred exercise levels to ideal adopters.

Vital Stats

Origin: developed between 1700 and 1900 in the border area between England and Scotland 

A.K.A. “The Border,” “Farm Collie,” “Working Collie”

Average height: 18-22 inches

Average weight: 30-50 pounds

Average life span: 14 years

Appearance: Border collies are medium- sized dogs with an athletic build and an alert expression. The most common coloring is black and white, but they may also have red, tan, blue, or silver in their coats.

Genetic problems: Eye problems, hip dysplasia, epilepsy/seizures


“Border collies come in two basic coat varieties: rough-coated, which is a mediumlength coat, and smooth-coated, which is a short coat. Like all dogs, they should be brushed at least weekly and bathed every couple months or so, but their coats seem to shed dirt easily, so they are pretty easy to keep clean.”


Children: “Generally, border collies do fine with children, though they have a tendency to herd them.”

Other animals: “In general, border collies do well with other dogs. However, they may want to chase and play with cats. It is essential for an owner with cats to do proper introductions and establish some rules concerning the cats. As I often say, ‘once a chase toy, always a chase toy,’ so it is important that the dog never be allowed to chase the cat. Dog-savvy cats can usually keep a border collie in line, but less experienced cats may be intimidated by the dog’s herding behaviors.”

General: “Border collies can be prone to some shyness, so it is essential that puppies get plenty of socialization.”

Exercise/Energy Level

“Border collies generally require at least a couple hours of physical exercise every day. Because they have active brains, it is also important that they have at least 30 minutes of daily training to keep them mentally stimulated.

Border collies excel in just about any performance sport. Agility, Frisbee, flyball, freestyle (dancing), and competitive obedience are some activities that they may enjoy. Herding, of course, comes naturally, but they can be quite good at tracking and search and rescue as well.”


“Border collies are a joy to train. They respond best to positive reinforcement, and they will practically turn themselves inside out for you! Sometimes it almost feels like cheating to train a border collie.

They were also bred to work very closely with their handlers—taking direction and obeying, even under highly stimulating and distracting conditions.

Border collies are very sensitive dogs. They don’t do well with harsh physical corrections and they often have noise sensitivities. While this makes them easy to train, they may not do well in a household with lots of raised voices or emotional upheaval.”

While every dog is unique, knowing that one breed likes to herd and another likes to lap-nap may help caretakers provide a better temporary home—and locate the ideal permanent one.

Read other editions of The Breed Report:


Surrender: “Most border collies in shelters have been surrendered because of energy issues. They may escape regularly, be destructive, bark, or just act generally hyper. Of course these behaviors are not the dog’s fault. The owner has underestimated the dog’s needs and the dog has learned how to entertain himself.”

Shelter Life: “Shelters can be hard on border collies because they need so much mental and physical stimulation. Many shelters have established training programs for their shelter dogs and these really help. Daily exercise is great, but don’t forget down time. Shelter life is near-constant stimulation for a dog, and because border collies are so vigilant and aware of their surroundings, this can be exhausting for them.Taking them out of the kennels for 30 minutes a day to a quiet place will help lower their arousal levels and also meet their need for some cuddle time.”

Adoption: “Adopters are attracted to border collies because they are affectionate and people-focused. Unfortunately, if the adopter is not committed to meeting these dogs’ considerable physical and mental needs, then the dog is likely to either be returned or become a backyard dog. I can’t imagine a worse fate (for any dog), but especially for the people-loving border collie.”


“At our shelter, I sometimes think we mix up Australian shepherds and border collies. They come in a lot of the same colors. I teach people to think of Aussies as “squarer”; they are almost as tall as they are long. Border collies are more rectangular—longer than they are tall.”


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